So, is intelligence born or cultivated? Do dull people happen or are they made? I have decided that this is something I really need to know for ethical reasons. And sanity reasons. Should I pity the frustratingly disengaged and unaware I encounter, or should I scold them or their influences? To satisfy my mind and ensure that my angst is properly placed, I need to know where to put the blame when an unguided person inflicts my senses.
Do my questions sound conceited to you? That’s probably because you’re confusing knowledge with intelligence. No worries, it happens all the time. We see a person that knows a lot and we equate that with being intelligent. The ability to retain a large quantity of facts could be a sign of intelligence. Being smart, however, is not the same as being intelligent. So, when I’m asking about intelligence, I am not pretending to be able to look down my nose at the poor huddled masses groveling below from atop my own mountain of recallable information. Quite the opposite. Most people I meet know more than than I do. I really believe that.
So, if knowledge is not the same as intelligence, what is intelligence. Ye olde Oxford Dictionary says it’s, “the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.” Acquire and apply. Knowledge and skills. Intelligence is not only knowing, it is informing your decisions with that knowledge.
The Gulf Conflict of 1991 introduced the civilian to several new military technologies. Among these “new” (new to public awareness) high-tech weapons were so-called “smart” missiles. What made them “smart” was their ability to make mid-course adjustments based on sensor and GPS data that could alert the missile to obstacles in its flight path. Previously, similar missiles could be pre-programmed with information about target location, but once the missile was on its way it was “dumb” – it couldn’t self-correct to respond to changes.
As it is with projectiles, so it is with people. Dumb people can’t self-correct their plan of action, or their assumptions, or their ideas, or their habits to respond to changes in their “target” – their desired outcome. Smart people, on the other hand, make continual on-the-fly adjustments to their behavior in a simultaneous process of: (1) using the knowledge they have, (2) acquiring new knowledge from their current position (3) correcting their flight path in light of 1 and 2.
You’ve probably heard Aristotle’s classic logical syllogism:
All men are mortal.
Socrates is a man.
Therefore, Socrates is mortal.
Well, allow me to adapt it:
Most people are dumb.
Dumb people are frustrating.
Therefore, most people are frustrating.
And I have just solved one of the great mysteries of my life. I’m serious. I just had a breakthrough moment. Wow. Blogging is like therapy, man.
I’ve always known from my own experience that most people are frustrating. (C’mon. Be honest. You think most people are frustrating, too.) I never thought through why. Most people are frustrating because most are dumb. And most are dumb because….drumroll…they lack the capacity to change. They don’t have “the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.” They might have lots of bits of information stored away, but they do not make use of that information to adjust their behavior based on that information. That’s why it is so difficult to interact with most people; to converse, teach, learn from, relate to, romance, and collaborate with them. They are not intelligent.
You know how it is. You have a friend that’s gone through a string of bad relationships. She keeps coming to you crying in her beer about how she’ll never find Mr. Right. You keep pointing out that she keeps going out with the same type of guys from the same type of places. She agrees, but continues the pattern. And you wait for that periodic “woe is me” phone call. That’s frustrating for you because she is literally being dumb. No change in behavior in light of what she knows. Not intelligent.
Come to think of it, Vegas is pretty much operating its business model on the fact that most people are not intelligent. “Gee, maybe if you pull the lever this time, some shiny coins will come out and the bells with ding.” Throw in the fact that once in a while at random times pulling the lever does work…and you’ve got conditioned behavior banking – pun intended – on dumb people.
I’m not ranting here. Honest. I’m just basking in a moment of illumination. Now I know why I am generally frustrated with the human population. This is my grand unification theory of sociology. They don’t adapt. They don’t adjust. They don’t do what they know. Most people are not intelligent.
This explains so much of what goes on in the world. Why are people still writing books? Because the intelligent people are trying to repackage information that’s mostly already out there for the dumb people. Maybe a pretty cover and some hip stories will trick the unintelligent into stumbling into some mid-flight corrections? Hope springs (or in this case, lures) eternal.
Advertising. You don’t really encounter a lot of different products being advertised, it’s actually a few products presented in new ways. They’re trying to crack into your behaviors and prompt a change. The challenge they face is that we are creatures of habit. That’s the nice way of saying that most people lack intelligence and therefore resist changing their behaviors based on what they know or learn.
Dumb people are why we have pastors and why pastors (or teachers, or professors, or educators) have to jump from burning buildings, juggle flaming torches, and perform other educational feats for a moment of the masses’ attention. (In fact, I’m swallowing a sword right now as I type, hoping to keep you interested.) Most of what they know can be learned from books at your local library. Yet, being the adorable creatures of habit they are, most people won’t learn. And if they do learn, it won’t change what they do. Their lives and their world will not benefit from the focused energy of a population that identifies community needs and responds with creative solutions. No. They will just keep going to Wal-mart and playing with the toys they buy until they break. Then repeat. They are dumb. They are following a course for their lives — from their driving habits, to their relationships, to their career choices — based on whatever trajectory their childhood, their chosen selection of sitcoms, and their college professor programmed in.
If nothing else, the fact that most people are dumb (Yes, it’s a fact. Please don’t make me start listing examples.) really does a number on the Enlightenment ideals this country was founded on. Especially the notion that education is a magical force that automatically empowers people to make great choices. The power of knowledge to transform lives is unquestioned by nearly everyone. Parents dream of sending their children to college because they will go in as dumb people and come out of the magical box of higher education and they’ll be…smart! And smart people make money and make great choices. If everyone only knew that you can get STDs, then we’d all use a condom. If we all just had the right set of information transfered to us, there’s no doubt we would have a peaceful, green, productive world. If everyone just went to church, our town would be happy and everyone’s marriage would last, right? If they just knew what the Bible says, right? Riiiiight.
There’s knowing and there’s doing and somewhere between those, somewhere between “acquire….apply” there’s a mysterious “and.” As Shakespere would say, “There’s the rub.” (What was he doing, grilling meat?) I’m not the first to notice this mystic “and,” this mysterious substance that can scramble the neuro-pathways connecting the mind and the hands. Modern philosophers like Roseau and Nietzsche noticed the separation between knowing and doing and when they pointed it out, it disrupted the flow of Enlightenment thinking like an idiot on his phone durning rush hour traffic. Knowing is necessary for making intelligent decisions, but it is not sufficient. Burried deep in us as people is that all-important “and” – the missing link of intelligence.
May I take a second for a tangent? [Nietzshce gets a lot of bad press for his famous statement, “God is dead.” As though he was an atheist. What he actually says is, “God is dead; and we killed him.” And what he means is that the ideas of the Enlightenment — that man and his reason are supreme — had removed the validity of a belief in the Christian God that had been the foundation of western civilization for centuries. And now that God is “dead” we are left with a bleak outlook on life that can’t account for why people still do dumb things (why reason alone can’t solve humanity’s problems) and provides no alternative explanation. This line of thinking, in my opinion, is the friend of Christians looking to engage today’s culture. Especially since Nietzchce is considered by many to be a source for postmodern thinking. It’s a great question to ask people: “Ok, God is out of the picture and sin is no longer an explanation for what’s wrong with the world – what’s your idea for a replacement of this model?” So don’t throw him out with the bath water. He noticed a critical flaw in Relativism and Rationalism, i.e. our society.] Done.
Lest this sound like some kind of high and mighty rant, I have to be quick to admit that I am actually the poster child for dumb. You can’t see me, but I’m really on the movie poster of Dumb and Dumber next to Jim Carrey. I’m so dumb that I keep getting frustrated by dumb people and don’t do anything about it; and then when I encounter unintelligent people in the future, I get frustrated again. How dumb is that? Talk about failure to apply knowledge and skills! I know that most people are dumb, yet I am surprised when I come across a dumb person. Now that is dumb.
Somewhere, I had a moment of intelligence and I came up with a solution to try to break out of of the dumb-ness cycle. The plan was to basically assume that all people are dumb. This definitely solved the surprise-factor. No more dumb people sneaking up on me and triggering frustration! I knew they were dumb all along. Now that’s intelligent. Only problem was, assuming everyone is dumb is self-defeating because I had to assume that I was also dumb. Plus, it didn’t really fit the facts because most people are dumb but not all. The plan backfired.
That’s when I decided to write this blog. I didn’t want to be dumb and I didn’t want to be surprised and frustrated by the unintelligence of others that I encounter. My new plan is to figure out who to blame for the fact that most people are dumb so I can: (1) know how to respond to lack of intelligence when I encounter it (pity? scorn? sympathy?), and (2) assign culpability for this rash of dumbness so that all my frustration can be put to productive use. I’ll be the Smokey the Bear of Dumbness: “Only you can prevent epidemic unintelligence.” I would even wear some kind of mascot costume, if that’s what it would take. It would be way easier than swallowing this sword every time I want your attention. It’s very hard on the esophagus.
So, is intelligence born or cultivated? Do dull people happen or are they made?
Besides, you’re not one of those people that has to be lured into learning something and applying what you learn to your decisions, are you? You didn’t really need that whole “I’m-swallowing-a-sword” thing to get you to read this blog, did you?